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When Baltimore's streetcars stopped running

Last week’s CSX derailment didn’t interrupt MARC or Amtrak service in Baltimore, but it did bring a halt to the one place in the city where you can still ride a streetcar.

Visitors to the Baltimore Streetcar Museum marvel at the trolley ride — a short trip along the Jones Falls in an antique streetcar. With the gentle breeze through the windows, it’s easy to see why Baltimoreans once rode the streetcar on hot summer nights to avoid the sweltering indoor temperatures.

Such streetcars once clanged and swayed across the city and back, with tracks like arteries connecting parts as far flung as Ellicott City and Dundalk.

Baltimore became the first city in the United States to get a commercially operated electric streetcar on Aug. 10, 1885. According to the Maryland Historical Society, the first line ran from 25th and Howard streets through Huntingdon and Hampden to Roland Ave. and 40th Street.

But after years of decline, streetcar service came to a total stop in Baltimore in November 1963. It was a disappointment for streetcar enthusiasts like Baltimore resident Dorsey Rhoads, who, sitting on a streetcar the last night of service, told The Sun that her father had driven the No. 8 streetcar line when she was a child. “It’s kind of sad to see them tearing it all apart,” she said, tearing up. “Why ruin it?”

Another person to ride the streetcar that night was Jerry Kelly, who climbed on board at 6 p.m. Saturday night, disembarking at 6 a.m. the following morning. Kelly, who died in 2018, would go on to help start the Baltimore Streetcar Museum.

“Streetcars have a sense of stability,” he told The Sun in 2016. While a bus route can change overnight, a streetcar line is more enduring.

But not forever.

Last week, freight cars crushed the museum’s substation, which converts the AC power the museum buys to DC power, the type needed to power its old-fashioned streetcars. A spokesman for the museum said he didn’t know when the museum would offer rides again.

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